Steven Watts: FOR MY FRIEND, MAX SEBALD
("Tell them I had a wonderful life"
Two months ago I was
talking to you in the Lithuanian forests : telling you
how old women from out of Druskininkai were walking
the blue floors of those stretched oceans with buckets
of mushrooms and moss
There space is old, trees are tall, memory is pain,
history is full of partisans and a sufi music conjures all
of us to whirl where the stalks of the forest barely sway.
I sensed you there because of the rotting of the music
and I knew you'd care.
Your room still is full of photographs
your realm looked after by trees. You who eschewed all
computer trails have been taken away by a skidding wheel
by black ice or a seizure of the heart, lifelong discourse
and your daughter's hurt
All I can do now is stagger
round my rooms mewling out your name Max, Max :
what will happen to language now, now you are not here
and who is left and how many remain of the anarchists
on the ice-floes of speech
These last weeks I had been
writing you postcards in my head : Max come to Whitechapel.
Come soon. Come and talk. Come and walk. Where are you ?
Why did you ? : but this has become an explosion of words
on the scarp of my pain
We'd talked about walking
from my village to yours : cutting a section across the Alps
or a section through a glacier's brain. From Precasaglio
in the Alta Valcamonica to Wertach in the Allgau.
Now I will do that without you.
Before we met and surely ever since
we've been talking to each other. And even when the other
was not there we'd carry on in monologues to hear. I shall
go on talking to you for as long as my mouth can speak :
or what is the point of language
From where did I come
to this scarred field : you first heard my voice in your car,
you last lost your own voice there : what silence in the water,
what bird-smoke, what rough circle in our language has
brought us back to here ?
Dear friend, what is the use of speech :
I now asking of you questions you can no longer reach -
yet as you drift off to the snow-hole of your hills I hear
you say "they are ever returning to us, the dead" -
Max, I am listening ...